As early as 17 days ago the Cincinnati Bengals sat at No. 32 on seemingly every list of NFL Power Rankings on the Internet.
They're too young.
The defensive won't be able to get over the loss of star CB Johnathan Joseph.
Replacing Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco with two rookies was a recipe for disaster.
While the Bengals haven't been flawless —in fact they've been far from it— they've proved through the first two weeks of the season that they have a ton of young talent on both sides of the ball and are in no way the worst team in the NFL.
Bengals fans hoping for Andrew Luck must be disappointed.
The Bengals are a better team than the 49ers.
Here's seven reasons why we'll see that on Sunday.
Remember the preseason?
Remember when Andy Dalton looked more like a high school kid than a franchise QB?
If you do, you shouldn't. Dalton has looked great in his first two starts. Before getting injured in Cleveland he lead an efficient —but unspectacular—TD drive and in Denver Jay Gruden opened up the playbook for him and he threw the ball all over the field and seemed to have great chemistry with his talented young receiving core.
Through about one and a half games Dalton's numbers look like this.
66% completion rate, 413 yards, 3 TD, 105.7 rating, 0 INT.
Those are incredible numbers for a rookie and everyone around the league would be raving about Dalton if it wasn't for the video game numbers being put up by Cam Newton.
Dalton looks like a leader on the field as well. The rest of the offense loves him and they are playing with a passion and effort I haven't seen in a Bengals uniform since 2005.
Dalton and Jay Gruden have made huge improvements to this offense and they shouldn't have any problem continuing their success Sunday against the 49ers
The play of the Bengals receivers has been just as important to the success of the offense as the play of Andy Dalton.
Jerome Simpson is a home run threat. His 84-yard catch last week proved that. It's still tough to get over the fact that he was drafted over DeSean Jackson a few years ago, but it appears that Simpson has finally found his way in the NFL.
And then there's that A.J. Green kid.
The No. 4 overall pick came to the Bengals with all the buzz in the world around him and he was expected to be the offense's most dynamic weapon right away.
So far he's lived up to those expectations.
After a great camp but mediocre preseason, A.J. Green was shut out by former college rival Joe Haden throughout most of the season opener. But late in the game he caught the CB off guard and ran deep for a 40-yard TD that essentially won the Bengals the game.
His Week 2 performance was great from the first quarter. Green had 10 grabs for 124 yards and a phenomenal TD catch. He seemed to be on the same page as Dalton and his combination of size, speed and polish are almost impossible to defend with just one guy.
The 49ers secondary is awful and both Green and Simpson should find plenty of openings to make plays.
We knew that with the youth on this offense that Cedric Benson would have to carry a tremendous load this year.
He did just that Week 1 when he took 25 carries for 121 yards and the game clinching TD. But against Denver, Benson only ran for 59 yards and averaged just 3.7 YPC. Part of that can be attributed to the Broncos being a better run stopping team than the Browns but Benson—or the run blocking—didn't look as good in Week 2.
Jay Gruden knows how important the ability to run the ball is to this team and he will make a strong effort to establish the run early and often on Sunday.
The 49ers have a solid run defense so I don't expect Benson to explode but 80 yards or so should be enough to get the Bengals a win assuming they have the success throwing the ball that they should.
Smith has led a very bad offense so far this season. The only reason they even have a win is because they played Seattle —arguably the worst team in the league — in Week 1.
If you can stop Frank Gore you will beat this team because Alex Smith and an injury-depleted group of WRs isn't going to beat you.
Leon Hall has played pretty well so far and despite a poor game last week, I think Nate Clements is a solid CB. The Niners WRs won't be open often and Manny Lawson should be able to at least contain TE Vernon Davis.
If I was Mike Zimmer I'd be sending Dunlap and Johnson hard at Alex Smith all day to make him struggle more than he already does.
It must be really frustrating to turn on ESPN or go on NFL.com just to read about how bad you are.
That is what the Bengals have been going through since last season. It appears this young team is using that as motivation and they seem to be showing that on the field.
The Bengals have been pretty awful in recent memory but it's not the current young core's fault and they want to change that.
I still am not a fan of Marvin Lewis—never have been, never will be—but props to him for not letting this team get too down on themselves.
Of course it's a lot easier to be excited about playing when you have young talent like Dalton, Green, Gresham, Dunlap, Atkins and Maualuga around you.
After playing on the road in two fairly tough venues to start the season these young Bengals must be very excited to take the field at Paul Brown Stadium with fans rooting for them.
Sure, the game didn't sell out in time and will be blacked out on local TV, but there will still be enough energy in the stadium to (hopefully) allow the team to put together their best performance of the young season.
It may not be as important as in College Football, but home-field advantage still means something in the NFL and it should boost the Bengals' chances on Sunday.
The Andre Smith drama seems to have finally ended.
After questionable pre-draft workouts, character issues, intense contract negotiations, lack of effort and multiple injuries it looks like Andre Smith is the RT of the future for the Bengals.
Smith is in shape and is a great run blocker. I'd argue he's one of the best in the league already. He may never be able to protect Dalton's blind side but he can flat out pave holes by himself for Benson.
Those of you who labeled Smith as a bust may have to reconsider. He really helps this offense a lot and will be one of the young guys the Bengals build around.
He'll plow down some defenders on Sunday.
For more follow me on Twitter @ZakKondratenko